Children in detention: Juvenile authors recollect refugee stories

Citation metadata

Author: Sissy Helff
Date: Dec. 2007
Publisher: Deakin University
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,058 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

In the last thirty years or so, one of the most swiftly growing areas in children's literature is fiction and autobiographical writing, dealing with the past and present of young people, who are deprived of their homes and ambivalently caught between cultures.1 Yet, events such as the creation of dictatorships, the decline of empires, the outbreak of wars and catastrophes, and the consequent waves of mass migration are not at all new to the human species. In fact, world history is full of records based on stories of hope and despair. What is new, however, is the scale of migratory movements and its representation in the media and literature. Indeed, the conditions of migrancy inevitably 'have formed the subject matter of children's fiction', as the critic Pat Pinsent states. Pinsent suggests that 'some of this interest [is] being triggered by the need for newer communities to find their voices, while the acceptability of such narratives for publication for children has been increased' (Pinsent 2005, p.181). The critic Jana Pohl summarises this literary development when she explains the enormous popularity of the topos of mass migration in children's literature:

Migration has been a prospering topic of children's literature. In accommodating the migration issue children's literature interlinks with aspects of multiculturalism, discrimination, tolerance, and cultural plurality for informational, educational and/or aesthetic purposes. Migration stories, depicting the movement from one place to another, immanently revolve around people, countries, and cultures that differ from the reader's background. Migration has also been referred to as object, i.e. topic, and subject at the same time because it serves as the autobiographical background for the author, thus implying a strong notion of subjectivity. Authors, who migrated as children, tell of their own experiences and memories or fictionalize their ancestors' life stories in children's literature. (Pohl 2005, pp.7879)

Stories dealing with migration and flight often give accounts of children and adolescents whose entire families have been persecuted, destroyed, and finally forced to leave their home country due to war, economic crisis, oppression and discrimination. By remembering, inventing, and recuperating stories of persecution and flight, told through the eyes of a juvenile migrant or refugee narrator, authors of children's literature have started taking on issues of social exclusion and discrimination. An example of this 'literary trend' can be found in the short story collection Dark Dreams: Australian Refugee Stories by Young Writers aged 11-20 Years (Dechian, Millar & Sallis 2004). While I consider the collection as one of the most original literary attempts to date to grapple with the overwhelming number of often untold and nameless refugee stories in Australia, the project's overall idea is even more striking.

As readers learn in the introduction to Dark Dreams, all stories in the book 'were collected in 2002 through an unprecedented nationwide schools competition, Australia IS Refugees!' (p.1). In this contest juvenile writers had been asked to get in touch with people who had previously sought refuge in Australia and were willing to share their experiences of persecution, flight and eventually...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A178401342